Will Aaron Perksy, Judge in Stanford Rape Case, Be Recalled?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 09, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Just a few weeks ago, Judge Aaron Persky was a little known public servant in Santa Clara Superior Court. Then he sentenced Stanford University student Brock Turner to a six-month sentence for three felony counts stemming from Turner's rape of an unconscious woman, far below the maximum 14 years Turner was facing. The case gained international attention when the victim shared her courtroom statement with the press, detailing how the rape and sentencing affected her.

Now, Judge Persky is facing calls that he should be removed from the bench. A Change.org petition has gained over 900,000 signatures in under a week, even as Persky won a new term on Tuesday, having run for his seat unchallenged. Those signatures are unlikely to have much of an effect on Persky's tenure, but a serious attempt to unseat him, led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, might.

A Slap on the Wrist, If That

The statement by Turner's victim became a viral phenomenon after it was posted to Buzzfeed. In 7,244 words, the victim describes how Brock Turner changed her life, how the criminal justice system valued Brock's future as a star college swimmer more than justice for her, how Turner still hadn't taken responsibility for his crimes. (If you somehow haven't read it, read it.)

The furor over the light sentence was only exacerbated when other statements were released. In a statement to the judge, Brock Turner claimed to be "the sole proprietor of what happened that night," but went on to decry the way his future had been impacted by his rape, and blaming the rape on "binge drinking and sexual promiscuity." He wrote:

I've been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school. I've lost my chance to swim in the Olympics. I've lost my ability to obtain a Stanford degree. I've lost employment opportunity, my reputation and most of all, my life.

Brock's father, who by some strange twist of fate is not named Biff, also chimed in. In a letter to the judge, Dan Turner, detailed the way "Brock is absolutely devastated" by the events. The "devastating impacts" described include a loss of his appetite and easy going personality. "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life," his father writes, referring to the rape.

Those entreaties seemed to have swayed Judge Pesky, however. When handing down the minor sentence, he explained that "a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others."

A Difficult, but Not Impossible, Recall Effort

And so the pitchforks were raised. The Change.org petition, nearly one million signatures strong, calls on the California Assembly to impeach Persky. That is unlikely to happen, however. For a judge to be removed in such a fashion would require impeachment by the assembly, followed by conviction by two-thirds of the state Senate.

A recall effort is a more likely route. Stanford Law professor Michele Dauber is already leading that charge. Despite Pesky winning a new term this week, Dauber told USA Today that "his victory will be short-lived. I'm 100 percent confident we will recall him. His decision hit every woman in the state of California in the gut."

In order to recall Pesky, Dauber would have to gather enough signatures to equal 20 percent of the total votes cast for Judge Persky's office, plus a smattering of signatures from five other counties. Dauber has launched a recall website to lead the effort, raising $8,000 in just the first 8 hours.

Still, even in California were recalls are relatively easy, recalling a judge is a rare occurrence. Orange County Judge Mark Kelly recently survived a similar recall attempt, spawned by outrage over a 1-year sentence for child molestation, which many saw as too lenient.

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